The use of high performance ceramic thermal barrier coatings in stationary gas turbines requires fundamental knowledge of their fatigue behavior under high temperature gradients and thermal cycling. An experimental method based on rapid laser heating complemented with finite-element calculations was developed in order to identify the major damage mechanisms and to obtain a data set for reliability assessment of thermal barrier coatings for temperature and stress fields similar to gas turbine conditions.

The observed failures are strongly related to the pretreatment procedures such as annealing under high temperature gradients and isothermal long-term oxidation. The vertical crack patterns observed close to the top surface of the Zirconia coating are generated at the moment of rapid cooling. These cracks are induced by high biaxial tensile stresses caused by the temperature gradient and the stress reversion after relaxation of compressive stresses at high temperatures. The long-term fatigue behavior is decisively determined by two processes:

(i) The porous Zirconia loses its damage tolerant properties by densification.

(ii) The growth of an oxide layer at the bond coat degrades adhesion and produces localized stress fields at the interface.

Cyclic loads increase the length of existing in-plane cracks and delaminations rather than enlarging their number. Misfit of the crack flanks and wedge effects are the driving forces for continued crack propagation.

These experimental results are discussed in terms of fracture mechanics.

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